Inslee signs bill taking aim at derelict vessels

In 2012, the Deep Sea, a derelict vessel anchored in Penn Cove, caught fire and spilled thousands of gallons of diesel fuel. - File photo
In 2012, the Deep Sea, a derelict vessel anchored in Penn Cove, caught fire and spilled thousands of gallons of diesel fuel.
— image credit: File photo

The 2012 sinking of the F/V Deep Sea in Penn Cove is again making waves across Washington.

For the second year in a row, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law last week legislation combating the state’s derelict vessel problem.

The bill, 2SHB 2457, follows on the heels of a bill passed in 2013 that addressed the same issue and was crafted in response to the Deep Sea’s sinking.

The new rules are an environmental victory for Puget Sound, said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and set an example for other coastal states struggling with the issue.

“This truly is landmark legislation,” said Smith.

“This isn’t just a crisis for Washington, it’s a crisis for all coastal communities … This really does raise the bar for owners and sellers,” she added.

Key elements of the legislation prohibits the sale of “unseaworthy” vessels older than 40 years and more than 65 feet in length. And those that can be sold must have insurance at the time of the sale.

The new law also requires moorage facilities and owners of vessels secured at these locations to carry marine insurance.

In May 2012, the 140-foot crab boat Deep Sea caught fire and went down just outside Penn Cove Shellfish’s mussel rafts, spilling thousands of gallons of diesel fuel.

The boat, owned by Renton resident Rory Westmoreland, was illegally moored for months and was uninsured. State and federal efforts to contain the spill, raise and dispose of the derelict vessel would cost taxpayers $5.4 million.

The incident made headlines across Washington and sparked legislation in 2013 to aid the state Department of Natural Resource’s Derelict Vessel Removal program.

It preserved what was special one-time funding for the program, but also stiffened existing rules concerning derelict vessels. It also required a work group of legislators and state agency staff to convene after the session and develop a list of solutions for the ongoing environmental problem.

At the time, Vessel Removal Program Manager Melissa Ferris said the state was aware of about 165 problem vessels. The current number could not be verified as attempts to reach Ferris Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

The legislation signed into law by Inslee this week includes portions which go into effect this year, and others on Jan. 1, 2015. It also establishes an annual “derelict vessel removal fee” of $1 per foot on commercial vessels that are required to be listed with the state Department of Revenue.

Money goes into the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Account.

The law exempts vessel deconstruction activities from the retail sales and use tax, and creates new penalties for failing to register a vessel.

Inslee called the legislation, and the state’s derelict vessel program, a great success for Washington and other states.

“DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program is an award-winning model for the rest of the nation,” the governor said, in an April 2 news release.

“This legislation is significant, not only because of what the bill does, but how it galvanized both sides of the aisle and a diverse group of stakeholders to develop workable solutions.”

Smith, a Clinton resident, helped spearhead the bill. She said it was a collective effort, and that the work group gathered weekly for months to generate the list of solutions.

“I’m just thrilled it got signed into law,” Smith said.

“We’re hoping this is really the foundation for change.”


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